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GOP state senator who voted for immigration law calls reports from Alabama schools ‘heartbreaking’

Alabama State Sen. Rusty Glover (R-Mobile) says reports of Hispanic and immigrant families taking their children out of school and leaving the state because of the new immigration law are “really heartbreaking,” and that he believes the Legislature will do some “tweaking” of the law in next year’s legislative session.

Glover said he was not as familiar with the law’s details as the law’s sponsors were. For example, he wasn’t aware that constitutional lawyers believe the law is a challenge to existing U.S. Supreme Court precedent, which since 1982 has protected a child’s right to a free public education regardless of their immigration status or their parent’s status. “I read that in the paper,” he says.

In addition to requiring that K-12 schools check the immigration status of their students, H.B. 56 requires police to verify the immigration status of anyone they stop, detain or arrest, and prohibits the enforcement of any contract with an unauthorized immigrant.

The law was passed by the Republican-controlled Legislature in May. Civil rights groups and the U.S. Justice Department sued to block the law from being enforced, as they did in the case of S.B. 1070, the Arizona immigration law. But unlike in Arizona, a federal judge chose to allow most of the Alabama law to go into effect.

The law has had immediate effects on immigrants, Hispanics and other people throughout Alabama. The New York Times reported 1,988 Hispanic students, or about 5 percent of Alabama’s Hispanic population of the school system, were absent last Friday after Judge Sharon Blackburn upheld the schooling provision. That number has increased this week, according to state officials.

Glover, who in addition to being a senator is a history teacher at Mary G. Montgomery High School in Semmes, Ala., said he read an article about the law’s effects on Hispanic schoolchildren to his students earlier this week. His students “want to know the pros and cons of why we passed it.”

He defends the law by arguing that unauthorized immigration is one of the most important issues for Alabama voters. “We had been getting a lot of calls from our constituents,” Glover said. “A lot of contractors were calling and saying it’s unfair that we have to compete with illegal immigrants.”

Glover said he’s “not really surprised” by what’s happening to immigrant families and communities in Alabama, but that the bill’s expansiveness was necessary for its effectiveness. ”It’s heartbreaking to read about these problems, but it’s going to be an immigration bill or it’s not going to be one.”

As The American Independent reported after the bill was passed, legislators in each chamber proposed different versions of the enforcement bill. Moreover, when the bill went to conference the physical size of the bill increased from 42 to 71 pages, reflecting vast changes that most of the legislators weren’t entirely familiar with.

The law’s sponsors continue to proudly tout it even as its harsher effects are being reported. One sponsor, Sen. Scott Beason (R-Jefferson), recently called the law “the biggest jobs program for Alabamians that has ever been passed.”

But even some traditionally Republican constituencies in Alabama have reacted with concern to the law. At a gathering in Gardendale, Ala., tomato growers told Beason the law drove away much-needed migrant labor during the picking season. One farmer said that tomatoes were “rotting on the vine.”

As vice-chair of the state Senate agriculture committee, Glover is sensitive to the concerns of farmers (the Alabama Farmers Federation has contributed over $50,000 to his campaign since 2006). But he says that the opposition from farmers was unexpected and only became clear after the law was passed.

“We didn’t hear much fight from the farmer community,” he says.

Glover claims the only visible opposition to the law came from civil rights activists protesting outside of the Legislature building, although as TAI has reported, farmer and business opposition to the bill was mostly behind the scenes.

“I think [the farmer community] underestimated the bill’s chances of passing,” Glover says.

He points out that immigration enforcement bills were repeatedly proposed in the Legislature for years. But this year’s unusually difficult budgetary process brought on by the recession made the costs of unauthorized immigration clear to many of his constituents. “People who weren’t really warm about the bill became warm about it.”

This year has seen an unprecedented number of immigration-related bills introduced in state legislatures across the country. The majority of bills similar to Alabama’s have been rejected, with many opponents citing the costs of potential litigation. Those fears have been confirmed in Arizona, Georgia, Utah and Indiana, all of which passed enforcement laws that were challenged and blocked by the courts and which have cost millions of taxpayer dollars to defend.

“I believe when we go back into session, there will some tweaking of the bill, to get some of that settled,” he says. “I don’t think all of the problems will be solved, but maybe there’s something we can do that won’t gut the bill.”

Yet Glover also recognizes that by the time the Legislature is back in session in February, the damage will already be done.

“It’s a good ways away,” Glover says. “It’s doubtful that many of them will return, regardless of what we do.”

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